The following press release was published by EPB of Chattanooga on August 14, 2020.
Chattanooga, TN (Aug. 14, 2020) – Hamilton County Schools (HCS) is joining with EPB of Chattanooga and other community partners to ensure all students can access the internet for online learning as the COVID-19 crisis continues. Made possible by support from local private and public partners and by having a community-wide fiber optic network in place, HCS EdConnect powered by EPB is a new initiative that will provide internet services to about 28,500 economically challenged students in Hamilton County Schools in the greater Chattanooga area—at no charge to the family. The formation of this partnership program is the first time a U.S community is definitively bridging the digital divide for education by providing a high-quality broadband solution to all students in need.
Families in the EPB service area with students who participate in HCS EdConnect powered by EPB will receive a router and at least 100 Mbps internet service at no charge to them. This internet service is at least four times faster than typical educational access offerings from other providers, and it is the only one that delivers symmetrical speeds (same speed for uploads and downloads) with no data caps. As a result, HCS EdConnect families will have more than enough broadband capacity and data to participate in video-based learning and other high bandwidth educational applications. The program is structured such that qualified students will maintain their internet services at no charge for at least ten years if the partnership reaches its full fund-raising goal.
“Ensuring the continued educational progress of our students is our top priority,” said Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger. “We’re meeting the challenges of the COVID crisis head-on by creating this innovative new program to ensure that our students have the connectivity they need to excel in the short-term and for the foreseeable future.”
HCS EdConnect is made possible because the Chattanooga area is served by a 100% fiber-to-the-home network that passes every home and business. This pioneering community-based fiber optic network was built-out in 2010 by EPB, the community’s municipally owned energy and connectivity provider.
“Families and students need high-speed broadband for schoolwork, exploration, and innovation,” said Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke. “Through this partnership, we are using our fiber network to improve the lives of thousands of families.”
Community partnerships have allowed Hamilton County Schools to rapidly raise $6 million toward the upfront infrastructure investment of $8.2 million necessary for the additional infrastructure and equipment needed at the outset of the project. Thus far, the funding partners for HCS EdConnect include Hamilton County, the City of Chattanooga, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Foundation, and the Smart City Venture Fund, which includes Benwood Foundation, Community Foundation, Footprint Foundation, and Robert L. And Katherina Maclellan Foundation.
“Our teachers, administrators, staff, and families are so thankful for the way this community is coming together to ensure the continuing educational progress of our children,” said Dr. Johnson. “More funding partners are already stepping forward to assist us in reaching full funding and helping our children become future-ready and prepared for success in school and life after graduation.”
“This partnership will benefit students, their families, and our community,” said Joe Wingate, chairman of the Hamilton County Board of Education. “Our mission as a board and school district is to move all children in our school district forward, and this effort will address vital action plan areas of Accelerating Student Achievement, providing Future Ready Students, and an Engaged Community found in our five-year plan Future Ready 2023.”
“We know the COVID-19 pandemic has made learning more difficult for both students and their families, especially those who don’t have fast, reliable internet access,” said Roy Vaughn, executive director of the BlueCross Foundation. “This program will help Hamilton County students keep learning in today’s unique environment — and beyond — and help address the societal inequities that make it difficult for families to thrive.”
HCS EdConnect will ensure that all students have the connectivity they need to access the school district’s virtual learning programs, including HCS at Home and HCS Virtual School. HCS EdConnect is a locally funded, community-based initiative. Eligibility to participate is determined by the benchmarks for economic disadvantage set by the state of Tennessee.
If the full-fundraising goal is reached, Hamilton County Schools and EPB will be able to fund the on-going cost of the service out of their existing operating budgets for ten years. The Enterprise Center will also play a significant role in facilitating communications and delivering technical support for HCS EdConnect powered by EPB.
“Online learning is an integral part of education in the 21st century, especially in a world made remote due to COVID-19,” said Deb Socia, president of The Enterprise Center. “Now, just as any student who depends on transportation is able to ride the bus, every student will be able to fully participate in the incredible opportunities afforded by Hamilton County Schools.”
“EPB’s mission is to enhance the quality of life and economic growth of our community,” said Warren Logan, EPB Board Chair. “I can’t think of a greater impact we could have than joining with our private and public partners to do what we can to help our students reach their full potential and prepare for their future careers.”
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